Among savvy poker players, there is a saying: “You don’t have to play the cards if you can play the player.” The idea is, if you’ve correctly appraised your opponent, you can win, no matter how the cards are dealt. You can judge by behavior whether unseen cards are good or bad, whether the player is confident or unsure, whether your opponent’s bluffing or prepared to back the bet, whether he can stand the pressure of a steep wager, at what point will resolve collapse, how much endurance does he have in a prolonged environment of uncertain risk? Once the skilled cardplayer has correctly judged these factors, it’s just a matter of time until the opponent is well and truly fleeced.
Like it or not, from the moment the president of the United States assumes power, he is engaged in the ultimate high-stakes poker game. From Day One, our friends, enemies and potential enemies are sizing him up as “a player.”
The president enters the game with unbelievably favorable cards. He’s generally regarded as “the leader of the free world.” He’s commander-in-chief of the mightiest Armed Forces ever assembled. He’s backed by the world’s strongest economy. He has the distinction of being freely elected to his office.
Among his international allies are some of the strongest, most politically astute and economically capable leaders in the world. These allies are committed to providing the president every help in playing his cards to best advantage in order to bring the world closer to a state of economic stability and international peace.
When President Obama was sworn in, he had the advantage of being head of the Democratic Party controlling both houses of America’s legislature. He was riding the crest of a wave of optimism and confidence extending far beyond his country’s borders. When he took his oath of office, it’s hard to imagine any assortment of advantages that could top the collection of cards he held in his hand.
After five years in the game, here’s what Americans hoped they’d see: Citizens bursting with pride at the president’s capable handling of domestic affairs; a sense of quiet confidence that U.S. armed forces are capable of standing as a bulwark of freedom, national security and security for American allies; a conviction among America’s friends that America is strong, resolute, cooperative and reliable; a certainty among America’s enemies that the United States, though committed to working toward global peace, is nevertheless unwavering in its determination to act decisively when action is required.
Now let’s consider how America’s friends and enemies may be evaluating the president’s performance to date. Domestically, he seems flustered, confused and, by his own admission, in the dark concerning too many important state matters. As a consequence, he has not been able to retain the high level of public confidence he enjoyed when he first took his place at the table.
Internationally, he seems to be cursed with a condition, known in football as “fumbleitis.” He just can’t seem to hold onto the ball. He was unable to secure a “Status of Forces” agreement in Afghanistan.
The physician who assisted in locating and eliminating Osama bin Laden is being punished by Pakistan, a supposed ally, and this president seems powerless to do anything about it.
When Egypt erupted in chaos, America’s friends and allies turned to the United States for guidance in navigating these dangerous waters. The president seemed “lost in the woods.”
No matter how it might be sugarcoated, it’s now clear that Iraq — in order to curry favor with neighboring Iran — is “kicking America out.”
The president drew a threatening line in the sand warning of dire consequences should Assad of Syria resort to the use of chemical weapons. The line was crossed, the president was humiliated and Putin of Russia emerged as the shrewd capable manager of the affair.
America’s involvement in Libya was timid and disorganized. The president was tricked into a half-baked agreement with Iran. Our allies are openly voicing their concerns about the president’s lack of skill and questionable resolve.
There seems to be a growing sense among leaders around the world that this president just doesn’t know what to do when the chips are down. Consequently, Vladimir Putin’s blatant territory grab in Ukraine seems exactly the right move a skilled cardplayer might make if he had a low opinion of his opponents’ collective intelligence and fortitude.
There is an old saying in the military: “There are three types of leaders, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”
Judge for yourself.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.